Chronicle Logo by Helen Macildowie

Clues to the early development of
Bury St Edmunds

From the Normans to the Tudor Reformation

1066 The year 1066 was momentous for England and the English. It would see three major battles take place, itself an extremely rare occurrence. Pitched battles were rare in any event, and three in a year would leave the country weakened and exhausted, whatever the outcome may be. In an agricultural society the disturbance of the farm year by fighting would result in lost or reduced harvests, and the loss of foodstores to hungry armies, whether friend or foe.

No significant number of men from north of the Humber would fight at Hastings. They came from the south to join Harold for this battle. A later cleric, Wace,wrote in his "Roman de Rou" (1160-1174) that
"they came from ....Bury St Edmunds and Suffolk, ..Norwich and Norfolk, ..from Cambridge and Stamford." They were led by the Earl of East Anglia, who was Gyrd or Gerth, the brother of King Harold.

The Abbot Baldwin at St Edmund's Bury was a French monk and a noted physician. He was royal physician to Edward the Confessor and was to perform the same function for William. Not only did William the Conqueror leave him in his post, together with all existing rights and privileges of the Abbey, but there was no Norman Castle built to dominate the town, and no disruption of the sort suffered elsewhere in Saxon England.

Bury by 1066. Speculative map by Bernard Gauthiez published in 'Bury St Edmunds Medieval Art, Architecture, Archaeology and Economy' editor A Gransden.
Bury 1066 by Bernard Gauthiez
blank Bury's population was probably about 1,500 with possibly 20 monks in residence. According to the Domesday Book, Bury was valued at £10 in 1066 with at least 310 householders worthy enough to be recorded. The relevant extract is as follows:

"14, ('Lands of St Edmund')

167
In the town where St Edmund the glorious King and Martyr lies buried, Abbot Baldwin held 118 men before 1066 for the monks' supplies.
They could grant and sell their land.
Under them, 52 smallholders from whom the Abbot could have a certain amount of aid.
54 free men, somewhat poor;
43 almsmen; each of them has 1 smallholder.
..............
Value of this town then £10; now £20.
It has 1½ leagues in length and as much in width.
When the Hundred pays £1 in tax, then 60d goes from here for the monks' supplies;
but this is from the town as it was before 1066."

The arithmetic is 118 plus 52 plus 54 plus 43 plus 43 equals 310.

The illustration shows the old Saxon town layout as envisaged by Bernard Gauthiez before Abbot Baldwin embarked upon major construction works both at the monastery site and in the town.

The Normans brought their forms of government which we would call feudalism. The abbot became a tenant in chief of the king and a baron of the realm. Under this system he would be obliged to supply the king with 40 knights in time of war, and to meet other feudal duties to the king.

It does, however, seem likely that whatever privileges and rights were still enjoyed before 1066 by the family of Bederic in and around Bury, these would have been lost by right of the conquest. The new King took over all such rights and it appears that he would have given them to the church of St Edmund or to the abbot. In other places he would have given such rights to one of his Norman Lords who had helped with the invasion. However it is not at all clear whether Bederic's kin still had many local rights following the grants made to the church by Cnut and the pre - conquest kings.

The convent of monks retained their rights over the town of Bury, outside of the abbot's barony, and the abbot's connection with the town itself was therefore nominal. The Sacrist represented the convent and was therefore, in practice, the lord of the borough. The Cellarer was the lord of the manor of Bury, and exercised the convent's rights over the town fields and agriculture, rights to the market, and control of the digging of chalk and white clay. His job was to provide provisions for the abbey. These rights often came under dispute over the years because of their complex nature, and often obscure origins.

Most of the town now belonged in one way or another to the abbey, but the largest exception to this was the Manor of Maydewater, in the area known today as Maynewater Lane. This was made part of the Honour of Clare, and a smaller holding belonged to the Manor of Lidgate.

Thetford was a town of first rank at this time, with a population of 4,000 to 5,000. It had a monastery and a mint for which it paid the king £40. It had twelve churches, but it did not prosper after the conquest, and would decline from the 943 burgesses it had in 1066 to 720 by 1086.

Norwich was by 1066 one of the largest and most important towns of Saxon England. It had 1320 burgesses, which is thought to indicate a population of about 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. It was, like Thetford, a busy inland port, but much larger, with extensive river wharves and storehouses.

1067 William soon left England with hostages and treasure, to return to Normandy to mind his affairs at home. Laws, wills, and legal writs continued to be written in Old English, and the English administration was left largely in place.

Gyrth, the Earl of East Anglia, had been killed at Hastings, but his title was now given, not to a Norman invader, but to Ralph the Staller, who was a high official of the conquered English court. Ralph was part Breton, and had French lands, so this may have helped his position.

At Bury we can assume that the town was safely held by Abbot Baldwin for King William for a number of reasons. Firstly Baldwin was himself a Norman, and so could negotiate freely with the King and Norman nobles. He got all the Abbey's privileges confirmed, and so could afford to sit tight. In turn the King could trust Baldwin because of his background. The monks could accept the authority of the new King because he had been properly anointed before God, and, in any case, it could be argued that Victory by Arms proved that this was God's will. Elsewhere, Abbots were disposessed, and replaced by Normans, and transition was more painful.

1069 In January, William's newly appointed Earl of Bamburgh was killed by local people. They had installed Aedgar the Atheling as their "king", calling upon York, and Swein, king of the Danes, to help them establish a free kingdom of the north.

England still had a strong Danish presence, particularly in East Anglia, the old Danelaw. Danes were disposessed by Normans as readily as Saxons, and so there was some support for the three sons of Swein of Denmark when they attacked England in 1069.

The Danish fleet landed first at Sandwich in Kent. They sailed on to Ipswich, then Norwich, and into the Wash.

Another Danish force invaded East Anglia. Despite the remaining Roman defences at Colchester, the Danes captured and burnt the town. Finally they were defeated near Ipswich.

By the end of 1069, the attitude of King William to England had hardened considerably. He had been dragged back here several times to put down one uprising after another, and he was losing patience. He mounted a punitive expedition after Christmas 1069 which has been called the Harrying of the North.

1070 After 1069 William started to depose some Bishops and Arch-bishops, where he thinks they have not been active enough in helping his cause. He abandoned the use of Old English in his writs and laws, bringing over French clerics, who were used to using Latin. He decided to treat England as a conquered land, to be governed by force if they would not accept him as lawful ruler.

At Lent in 1070, King William decreed that all monasteries should be plundered of the riches placed there by the local nobilities. This included Ely, which showed no willingness to co-operate, as well as at St Edmundsbury, where things had been very quiet under Abbot Baldwin, the French Benedictine, who had ruled there since before the conquest. Bury has no record of having been plundered under this ruling, but it seems likely that Baldwin must have quietly gone along with the decree. The Anglo - Saxon Bishop of East Anglia had been Althelmaer since 1052, with his simple wooden cathedral and headquarters in the obscure and remote village of Elmham. It had been there for centuries. The post conquest Norman Archbishop Lanfranc now had carte blanche to sack him, and replace him by Herfast, or Erfast, a Norman royal favourite. Norman religious ideas were to decry simple worship, and they demanded great stone churches in the heart of the largest towns.

Archbishop Lanfranc also issued an injunction that bishoprics would now only be assigned to major towns.

For the new Bishop Herfast, this meant choosing between Thetford, Norwich, Ipswich and Bedericsworth, or St Edmund's town, as it was now thought of. Thetford was the safe bet, but Erfast had his eyes on the established and wealthy abbey at Bury.

This conflict between the Bishopric and the Abbot of St Edmunds would rumble on for several decades.

1071 The revolt of Hereward the Wake in 1070 and 1071 has been said to be a minor affair by contrast to the northern revolts, but has attracted more attention from some writers. Trevor Bevis thinks that of all the revolts, "that occurring in the fens was the most serious." Peter Rex calls Hereward "the last Englishman."

Following his raid on Peterborough in 1070, Hereward was a hunted man. He believed that he could seek refuge on the Isle of Ely, and that he would be accepted by the monks there. The monastery at Ely was very old, and was founded by St Etheldreda, or Audrey, in 673. Ely had been besieged by Norman nobles, on and off, for three years, but they had made little effective progress. By now King William had decided to strip the monasteries of their wealth and charters, together with any wealth deposited there for safe keeping by English landowners and merchants. There were no banks, and often the local abbey was the only place thought safe from banditry of any kind.

By 1071, Erfast had been consecrated as Bishop of Elmham. The diocese was due to move its headquarters to Thetford, but Erfast wanted to move in on Bury. Baldwin went to Rome to defend his abbey against this takeover. The Pope gave the abbey the privileges it sought, as well as a porphyry altar but the dispute continued. Erfast only withdrew his demand after his eye became septic and Baldwin, who had been royal physician to three kings, would only help him in return for withdrawal of his claim to Bury.

Up until this time the abbey of St Edmund had felt under the special protection of the English Crown. Its greatest privileges over the town and the area of West Suffolk had been granted by successive Kings. Now, in 1071, the Abbot felt that he needed to appeal to the Pope to defend his position. Pope Alexander II merely seems to have confirmed those privileges already granted to the Abbey by the Crown, but perhaps the Crown was by now becoming unreliable as a protector. The Pope confirmed the Abbey's exemption from episcopal authority, effectively bypassing the English Bishops and Archbishops, and giving St Edmund's a direct line to the Papacy itself.

The headquarters of the East Anglian diocese would remain at Thetford until around 1098 when it moved to Norwich.

1072 By 1072 William was in full control of all England.

There was now another round of land confiscations to punish those who had been in the resistance at Ely. In East Anglia this may have meant that the aftermath of the battle for Ely had a bigger impact upon the local population than did Hastings. King William was no longer in a mood to be reasonable, and he had his own men to reward for the capture of Ely. It was not just dead enemies who lost out.

We can also expect that St Edmund's Abbey also lost out during this period, to some degree, but Abbot Baldwin did not attempt to regain these by going to law, and upsetting his new neighbours. Most of Bury St Edmunds had belonged in one way or another to the abbey, but the largest exception to this was the Manor of Maydewater, in the area known today as Maynewater Lane. This was made part of the Honour of Clare, and a smaller holding belonged to the Manor of Lidgate. It may have been at this time that these exceptions came about.

Of the 10,000 men who crossed the Channel with King William, some 2,000 were rewarded with grants of land. Within a short time, ten of King William's relatives owned 30 per cent of English land. Prominent among them in Norfolk were the Bigod and Warenne families. The Bigods also had great estates in Suffolk.

The Normans could now begin to enjoy their new estates.

1075 This event is known as the Rebellion of the Earls, but it included a major contribution by the Danes once again.

In 1075, King William was abroad, as he usually was from 1071 to 1075. The country was left in the hands of Archbishop Lanfranc. The absence of the King encouraged plotting. The plot seems to have begun with a wedding ceremony held at Exning, where Ralph married Emma, the daughter of William FitzOsborne, and the brother of Roger FitzOsborne, Earl of Herefordshire.

Earl Ralph's new wife, Emma, seems to have held Norwich castle for him against King William while he led East Anglia into rebellion.

It seems that Norwich castle held out for three months until Lady Emma surrendered. This was one of the longest sieges recorded at this time. Eventually she was given terms which allowed her and her garrison to flee abroad to be with her husband.

The king installed his own force of over 300 men in Norwich castle and Earl Ralph's lands were given to Count Alan of Brittany.

Along with William de Warrene, one man prominent in defeating Earl Ralph's rebellion was Richard Fitzgilbert, son of Count Gilbert de Brionne. He ended up with 170 English lordships, 95 in Suffolk. He made Clare his headquarters and his lands became known as the Honour of Clare. He would have been called Richard Fitzgilbert at first and possibly de Clare later. Certainly the family was using the name de Clare by 1120.

Another Norman, Roger Bigod, got 117 manors in Suffolk,and was made Earl after Ralph Wader. He also took charge of Norwich castle.

Robert Malet, son of William Malet ended up with 221 holdings in Suffolk based in Eye, where his father had quickly built a castle, the only one to be specifically mentioned in the Domesday Book for Suffolk.

These families had all participated in the earlier suppression of Hereward's revolt at Ely, and profited by it, but there was another large scale transfer of lands in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex in the aftermath of the Earls' Rebellion.

Baldwin builds the new abbey church. Picture from Lidgate's Life of St Edmund, of 1434. Facsimile by the British Library, 2004
Baldwin's new Abbey Church
1081 By this time, the Bishop of East Anglia, Herfast was increasingly aware that the Abbot of St Edmunds had more income, power and prestige than he did. He had tried to set up his headquarters at Hoxne on the northern boundary of the Liberty of St Edmund, justifying this by claiming it to be the site of St Edmund's martyrdom. The Abbot of St Edmunds objected to this.

The King again had to stop Bishop Erfast from trying to move in on the abbey at Bury. So in 1081, William the Conqueror confirmed the freedom of the abbey of St Edmund from episcopal control. On 31st May he issued a grant of privileges to "Edmund, the Glorious King and Martyr." According to a copy reproduced in Yates's History, the Bishop's case "was altogether destitute of writings and proofs". Baldwin had produced charters from Canute and Edward in support of the claim to be free of "dominion of all Bishops of that county". William also confirmed all the charters, or precepta, of earlier Kings that "this church, and the town in which this church stands, should be free, through all ages, from the jurisdiction of Bishop Arfast, and of all succeeding Bishops."

Abbot Baldwin had successfully fought off the Bishop, and in the course of the dispute, he obtained exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, not just for the abbey, but also for the town of Bury itself. This resulted in the abbey sacrist being responsible for appointing the parochial chaplains and taking any tithes due to the churches of St James and St Mary. In practice the sacrist was the parson of both parishes, carrying out duties normally undertaken by an archdeacon of the diocese.

This ended the attempts by Bishop Erfast to turn Bury into the cathedral of his see.
This event probably helped to kick-start work on a great new Abbey church at Bury, supported by the Conqueror. Norman sensibilities demanded stone buildings of a size and style unknown to Saxon England before 1066. The separate chapels and churches and haphazard buildings had got to be sorted out and replaced to glorify the new order.

So, from about this time, Abbot Baldwin and the Sacrist Thurston probably began to organise the first great re-building of St Edmund's abbey church. The old saxon town had probably been centred inside what today we would think of as the Abbey precincts, but at the time was probably thought of as a normal mix of church and commerce and residential. The Normans liked tidy streets in an orderly grid pattern, so new land was laid out in a grid and Baldwin's new streets probably included families pushed out of the abbey precincts by its expansion. It was also a process of separating the religious establishment more clearly from the townspeople.

It is not clear whether the Saxon Road directly linking Northgate Street to Southgate Street was fully deflected to the present configuration around the abbey precincts at this time, or not until Anselm's day. That part of Northgate Street from Pump Lane to Angel seems to have been called High Street in early days, which might echo the idea of it being the old main street running straight on through today's Abbey Gardens. Angel Hill itself was called The Mustowe until the seventeenth century, meaning a meeting place, and could have been Anselm's market place. The new abbey boundary was probably moated by Baldwin to give a more formal separation of abbey and town.

Great and Little Domesday books surviving today in the National Archive at Kew
Click for more on Domesday
1086 The survey upon which the Domesday Book was based took place in 1086 and remains a valuable source of information about this period. The surviving Domesday Book probably took another couple of years to compile from the surveyors notes. One idea is that the surveys of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex were never properly compiled in this way, and the notes were just copied in their raw form into a separate volume which came to be called the Little Domesday Book.

Bury by 1086. Speculative map by Bernard Gauthiez published in 'Bury St Edmunds Medieval Art, Architecture, Archaeology and Economy' editor A Gransden.
Bury 1086 by Bernard Gauthiez
blank Baldwin was Abbot of St Edmunds from 1065 to 1097 and Domesday credited him with building 342 houses by 1086 on land which used to be under the plough. The relevant extract is as follows, taken from the Phillimore translation:

"14, ('Lands of St Edmund')

167
In the town where St Edmund the glorious King and Martyr lies buried, ........................
Now 2 mills; 2 ponds or fish ponds.
Value of this town then £10; now £20.
It has 1½ leagues in length and as much in width.
When the Hundred pays £1 in tax, then 60d goes from here for the monks' supplies;
but this is from the town as it was before 1066 and yet it is the same now although it is enclosed in a larger circuit of land which then was ploughed and sown but where now there are 30 priests, deacons and clerics, and 28 nuns and poor persons, who pray daily for the King and all Christian people.
Also 75 bakers, brewers, tailors, washers, shoemakers, robemakers, cooks, porters, bursars; all these daily serve St Edmund's, the Abbot and the brethren.
Besides these, there are 13 reeves in charge of the land who have their houses in the same town;

Alternative translation by Domesdaytextbase: "Besides these, there are 13 [men] on the reeve's land who have their houses in the same town;"

under them, 5 smallholders.
Also now 34 men-at-arms, including French and English; under them, 22 smallholders.
Now in all there are 342 houses in lordship on land which was St Edmund's arable before 1066."

This building was probably arranged in five new streets to the west of the Abbey, running north to south in a grid plan, still clearly visible today. These houses generated rents and the market generated tolls and fees for the Abbey. The convent held 400 acres of arable land within the Banleuca, or the town boundary which lasted up to the 1930's. Nothing could be built in the Banleuca without the permission of the Abbot and the Convent. The town was recorded at 2.5 miles long and the same length wide.

However, the town ditch enclosed a tighter, urban area with its South, North, East, West and Risby gates. The people living inside the ditch enjoyed more privileges than the suburban dwellers in the Banleuca outside. The town ditch was probably not replaced by a wall until about 1136.

1090 By 1090 work had begun on the great new church for the abbey of St Edmund. Most of the stone was to come by river boat from Barnack quarries near Peterborough. According to John Lydgate writing in 1430 some stone came from Caen in Normandy by sea and landed on the strand at Rattlesden.

Baldwin built St Denis's church for use by the town on the site of the chancel of the present cathedral. This was to compensate them for losing the right to worship in the abbey church.

1094 The Chancel of the great new Abbey church was completed. King William Rufus was asked permission to consecrate it to St Edmund.

In April, 1094, the Bishop of East Anglia, Herbert de Losinga formally moved his throne from Thetford to Norwich. Work was begun on a great new cathedral at Norwich for him, and it seems likely that a complete physical move awaited some completion of works in 1098. The dates surrounding this move are confused in many texts, as are the exact details of the wranglings over the attempted takeover of Bury by the Bishops.

King William had given the church some houses in Norwich, so that the bishopric could have a prestigious new site, and promised the Bishop the right to mint coins to provide another source of income. A huge cathedral thus began to rise in Norwich from 1094 to 1098.

The Normans also went in for town planning and Clare and Bungay were both given the grid iron layout most famously surviving today at Bury St Edmunds.

1095 At last the Bishop of Winchester arrived in Bury with the King's chaplain and inspected the saints body, verified its condition and managed its move to the new shrine. The Bishop of Winchester then consecrated the large new abbey church of St Edmund. Herman, a monk of Bury, compared the presbytery of the new church to the Temple of Solomon. It was bigger than Durham Cathedral, which is 411 feet long, whereas Bury was 480 feet.

The remains of St Edmund were moved (the correct church term is 'translated') into the new stone church behind the high altar. The foundation at Bury had also acquired relics of other saints in the time of King Canute, so, at the same time the relics of St Botolph, and St Jurmin the Confessor, were also translated into the new church.

Under Abbot Baldwin the ancient timber church had been levelled and foundations laid, walls built and the presbytery completed in full so the saint could be housed in more suitable surroundings. This was part of a nationwide flush of Norman stone church building, after sweeping away the old fashioned Saxon churches. Phase one of the rebuild was complete and work now seems to have stopped for seven years.

1097 Abbot Baldwin died in 1097. He had come over from France to the court of King Edward the Confessor, and became a man of great international experience and influence. He had the ear of kings, and was a great organiser and administrator. Once made Abbot of Bury in 1065, he soon doubled the size of the town into a flourishing trading centre. It was clear to him how this growth would generate income for the monastery, and he was able to attract merchants, both French and English, to come to the town. All this was carried out under the heel of a conqueror, and his influence with the Conqueror helped to give the town the secure conditions needed for safe trade. This contrasts with the decline of towns like Thetford and Ipswich after the Conquest.
1104 Abbot Robert II is credited with building the Cloister, Chapter House, Refectory, Dormitory and the abbot's Camera at Bury. It is believed that the Sacrist in charge of the building work by this time was called Godfrey. Remarkably this building work took place during a time when the abbot was officially in an acting capacity, as the King refused to allow him to be consecrated. It is not known exactly when these buildings were completed, but Robert II ruled the abbey from 1100 to 1107, officially accepted or not.

There is a question to be considered about the location of these new buildings. As William Spanton wrote in the 1920s, "The situation of the Cloisters and Monastic buildings north of the Abbey Church is unusual - The south side was commonly chosen." ('Bury St Edmunds Its History and Antiquities', page 13 footnote.)

Since the early 800s all continental Benedictine monasteries tended to follow a layout based upon a plan of St Gall, in Switzerland. Norman planners now brought these ideas more strongly into Britain. The classic layout was for the cloisters and the living quarters of the monks to be located to the south of the great church. This would place these buildings on the sunny side of the church. For some reason, at Bury the cloisters etc were placed to the north of the abbey church. We do not know if Sacrist Godfrey was following a layout already agreed under Baldwin, or whether this was his own idea.

In any case, we can speculate that there must have been a reason for this departure from established practice. One reason may have been that the topography favoured building to the north, perhaps because of soil conditions, or because of the issue of the water supply and management of drainage. Another reason may have been that the area today known as the Great Churchyard may have been occupied by townspeople's dwellings, or even by a market-place. Further investigation is needed into examination of these possibilities before reaching a conclusion.

1120 Anselm became the seventh Abbot of St Edmunds and was in post until 1148. He was an Italian monk, from St Saba, outside Rome, and was to be one of the great Abbots, responsible for some buildings like the Norman Tower, that still stand today. Anselm's Italian sensibilities would have included a love of great plazas, and although Abbot Baldwin has been credited as the town planner of Bury, it is equally likely that Anselm had a hand in the Angel Hill and Cornhill areas we see today. The town walls and gates came about under Anselm.

Anselm was a nephew of St Anselm of Canterbury and was a friend of the King. He was often at Henry I's court.

1121 It is possible that Godfrey was succeeded by another Sacrist at this time called Ralph. Godfrey had by now overseen the building of the infirmary, the crypt (dedicated 1114), the transepts, the central tower to roof level and two bays of the nave.

Anselm and Ralph now had to plan for the completion of the great church. They wanted a magnificent approach to the planned West Front and decided upon a Great Gateway (The Norman Tower) opening upon a courtyard in front of it.

They also wanted a square in front of the gateway and it is likely that some demolition and re-development of properties was necessary at the Southern end of Angel Hill and around today's Chequers Square. The boundaries of the Abbey were probably extended again towards the town to accommodate the new building, and the roadway shifted accordingly. This probably all took the next 30 years to carry out.

In the town of Bury, the administration necessary had grown over the years and by this time it was normal for there to be two joint Town Reeves controlling the borough. They collected the rents and market tolls and enforced the law on behalf of the sacrist. The job became called Bailiff by the next century.

1125 St James Church was dedicated. The old parish churches of St Denis and St Mary had been demolished to make way for the great abbey church. The new St James's was begun by Anselm as one of the replacements. The new St Mary's would be started about ten years later.
1135 King Henry granted the Abbot the right to hold Bury Fair and it may have always been held on the Mustowe, now called Angel Hill.
Bury by about 1150
Bury by 1150
1136 The threat of civil war in the reign of King Stephen lasted until 1153 and caused a spate of new castles and fortifications to be built or older ones strengthened. At Norwich, Hugh Bigod strengthened the castle, and refused to hand it over to the crown as he had heard a rumour that King Stephen had died. Stephen had to go himself to Norwich to take possession of it.
Remnants of the old Town Wall line in the yard of the Black Boy public house seen from St Andrews Street South in December, 2005.
Remnants of town wall
blank Around this time, according to the Gesta Sacristarum, Harvey the Sacrist also built the town walls of Bury to replace the ditch from the West Gate to the North Gate. Remnants of the Town Wall, or perhaps, more accurately, remnants of the line of the town wall are best seen in St Andrews Street South. From the Black Boy Yard northwards, several yards still show evidence of a continuous wall line, in either freestanding walls or in building lines. Evidence probably recurs in Tayfen Road where the Gasworks stood. It then seems to disappear again. In 1993, masonry was excavated on the Northgate Street roundabout which seemed to be part of the North Gate. Excavations just south-west of the roundabout by Tayfen Road failed to find the town wall where it would have been expected to have run. We might conclude therefore that Anselm enlarged Baldwin's grid of streets and surrounded the urban area by a wall, except where there were marshes, to the north of Tayfen. The wall was more commercial than military as it had five gates where tolls were collected. Four of the gatekeepers were town appointees rather than the abbot's but the Abbey received all the income. The Abbey kept control of the Eastgate as it also regulated river traffic under the Abbot's Bridge.

The money for the walls came from the town rents paid to the sacrist, and also from a levy on the free tenants of the Liberty of the Eight and a Half Hundreds of West Suffolk.

Anselm possibly also moved the Great Market from St Mary's Square to a large space inside the town wall at the top of Abbeygate Street. It is also possible that it had previously been held on Angel Hill before being moved to today's position. Burgesses paid no gate toll, so could sell at cheaper prices in the market than could outsiders.

Abbey precincts by the time of Jocelin. From Jocelin of Brakelond by Norman Scarfe.
Abbey precincts late 12th Century
by Norman Scarfe
1148 Disheartened by events, the Empress Matilda left England, never to return.

Abbot Anselm died. By this time, under his leadership, Ralph the Sacrist, followed by Hervey the Sacrist had virtually completed the nave and west transept. The west front, with its three great arches still lacked its three towers, which were added later by Abbot Samson.

The great gateway of St James's or the Cemetery Gate which we now call the Norman Tower was built between 1120 and 1148. It was also to serve as a belfry for the church of St James.

Anselm had also founded St James Church after he was forbidden to travel to St James at Campostella in Spain on pilgrimage.

Chequer Square was at this time called Paddock Pool and its swampy nature was a problem for the medieval builders.

St Mary's Church was built on its present site because the old St Mary's had to be demolished to make way for the north wing of the new transept of the great Abbey Church. The Abbey precincts were all surrounded by walls with just four gates; St James's Gate (the Norman Tower), the Court Gate (now called The Abbey Gate), Mustow Street Gate and St Margarets Gate opposite where the Manor House Museum stands today.

The west and north side of the abbey precincts also had a moat like ditch, outside the walls, with wooden bridges at the gates. This has been seen during various modern excavations for road or sewer works, and seems to run from St Mary's Church, along Crown Street and the Angel Hill, and probably fed into the river at Eastgate Bridge. It was about 15 feet wide, and is sometimes still visible in early prints or pictures of the Angel Hill. This ditch was probably necessary for drainage rather more than for defence.

Bury by 1086. Speculative map by Bernard Gauthiez published in 'Bury St Edmunds Medieval Art, Architecture, Archaeology and Economy' editor A Gransden.
Bury late 12th Century
by Bernard Gauthiez
blank The building of St James's gate, now called the Norman Tower, pushed the boundary of the abbey precinct westwards, and must have necessitated the demolition of properties along the old High Street, which had run along the line of the abbey church's west front. The Bury Customary recorded that during this time the Sacrist Hervey acquired 46 houses in the town. This may well indicate the new homes that would have been needed to house the people evicted from the High Street. The street which we call Abbeygate Street may have been part of this new development. Hitherto, Churchgate Street had probably been the principal east-west axis of the town since just after 1066, in the time of Abbot Baldwin.

Abbot Anselm had also founded St Peter's Hospital in Out Risbygate as a leper colony.

1154 The year 1154 marks the ending of the work known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Peterborough Manuscript, referred to as Manuscript "E", ends in 1154.

Some time between 1145 and 1154, Pope Eugenius III issued a bull which confirmed the Sacrist Elias in his possession of the Borough. Its rents were for the service of the abbey church and the assistance of the office of Sacrist. This is the first surviving written reference to the Sacrist being in practice lord of the borough, but Lobel believed that this had been the case for at least 50 years already. As effective Lord of the Town, the Sacrist collected the various feudal dues payable to a Lord. In earlier times the tenants had to provide labour services to their Lord, such as a certain number of days work at harvest time. By this time, many of these dues were commuted to cash payments.

  • The harvest dues were now paid by Rep silver, or reaping silver, in lieu of reaping the corn physically.
  • Landmol was paid at the rate of two pence per acre for agricultural land within the 900 acre Banleuca.
  • Hadgovel was a ground rent paid for the right to occupy land for a home, or burgage tenement.
The Sacrist also directly owned his own 250 or so houses, which he rented out. Market tolls were also payable by stallholders, but might be exempted if they already paid Hadgovel. Much local law enforcement was also under the Sacrist, who took all the fines and court fees as income.
1157 Abbot Hugh was elected as Ninth Abbot to rule the Abbey of St Edmund following Ording's death in 1156. He was previously Prior of Westminster and it seems likely that he came into office and found the Abbey deep in debt. There had been a massive building programme under Abbot Anselm, and they probably borrowed money to pay for rebuilding the fire damage of 1150.

Jocelin was later to record a debt to Benedict the Jew of Norwich which had been outstanding for fourteen years.

Abbot Hugh I ruled the abbey until 1180.

1163 During the years from 1160 to 1165 King Henry II granted to Jewish communities the right to acquire land for their own cemeteries outside the towns in which they lived. If this happened at Bury Robert Butterworth has suggested that a likely spot would be in todays St Andrews Street South, just outside the town wall.
1170 In 1170 it was the 200th anniversary of the re-founding of Ely as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Aethelthryth or St Audrey. To celebrate this event a monk of Ely was commissioned to produce a history of the Isle of Ely, and this is known today as Liber Eliensis, translated by Janet Fairweather in 2005. This history covers the period from the 7th century up to 1169, and probably included extracts from many separate old manuscripts in Old English, which the compiler translated into latin for his new manuscript work. This book contains several references to Bury St Edmunds under the old name of Bedericesworth, including the following:

Book I, chapter 7 : "There is in the same province a place called Blythburgh in the vernacular, in which the body of the venerable King Anna is buried, and to this day is venerated by the pious devotion of faithful people. In that place, too (Blythburgh) his son Iurminus, (St Jurmin) God's chosen one, was buried, but afterwards he was translated to Bederichesworthe, which they now call, Sanctus Edmundus, and given honourable burial."

Book I chapter 23 : "There was a man who, thanks to the merit of extreme sanctity, was the steward of her (Aethelthryth) farmlands, St Algetus by name; his body rests at Bedericesworthe which is the town of the blessed martyr Edmund....."

Book II, chapter 86 : "He (Aelfwine) also, by the decree of the King himself (Cnut), for the first time brought a contingent of monks to Bedericesworthe. He established there some monks from his own church of Ely, but others from Holm, and he supplied them with subsidies in abundance."

1179 By the end of Abbot Hugh's reign the abbey was deeply in debt. Not only had Hugh himself inherited debt, and borrowed more and more, but other monks in responsible positions had taken on debt using their own seals of office. Money was owed to many different lenders. There was Isaac, son of Rabbi Joce, (£400), Benedict of Norwich (£1000) and his brother Jurnet of Norwich, and Benedict of York (£880). Jocelyn blamed William the Sacrist for borrowing secretly at exorbitant rates of interest.

When a monk borrowed money by pledging altar vessels to the Jew Sancto of Bury, it was Sancto who was fined 5 marks for accepting the pledge. This was a form of pawn-broking which was another occupation which Jews could follow at this time. The Jew, Bennet of Suffolk, was similarly fined 30 marks for accepting certain holy vestments as a pledge against a sum of money.

At one point even the Jews were worried about the size of the debts. Benedict of Norwich complained about it to the King's representatives, but Hugh and William had managed to cover up the position.

It was this state of affairs which Samson would attack as part of his bid to become Abbot when Abbot Hugh died.

The town of St Edmund's Bury had a Jewish community which had become bankers to the Abbey. During the troubles of 1173 their wives and children were given shelter within the convent, and relations with the Abbey were generally good. Moyse's Hall, now a museum, was a stone house possibly associated with Jewish wealth, believed to date from this period, usually dated c1180. Some historians doubt this Jewish connection because Hatter Street was the Jewish quarter and they doubt that a Jewish family would chose to live by the pig market. They attribute its name to a butcher called Mose who lived there much later.

1180 Samson was sub-sacrist at this time and began to gather a large store of stone and sand for building a tower over the west transept. He refused to borrow money for this purpose and, instead, collected donations from visitors.

With the abbey temporarily in the king's hands, some people thought that Samson was over-reaching his authority. The abbey's Jewish creditors naturally thought that the cash would be better spent on redeeming some of the abbey's long outstanding debts. They appealed to the King's representatives, who agreed, and Samson's cash was taken out of his hands.

Abbot Samson began his rule with a new seal.
Abbot Samson's New Seal
1182 By now the monks had fallen into two camps. There were those supporting William the Sacrist for Abbot, and those who favoured Samson. William had worked closely with the Jews and had good relations with them, but he was implicated in reckless spending and debt. Samson was the dour businessman type, but he could point to the massive debts as being what really needed to be put right, and he had the irrational emotional appeal to those who felt the the Jews were the cause of all the abbey's financial problems, as well as being ready to commit ritual murder.

But now that he was abbot, Samson was to press ahead with the great tower in the centre of the west transept of the Abbey Church.

St Saviours Hospital. Remains still visible in 2005.
St Saviour's Hospital
1184 In about 1184 Samson founded a new hospital called St Saviour's at Babwell. The site is on the Fornham Road, outside the old North Gate. Today it is adjacent to the railway bridge, next to Tesco's store.

Samson had always had it in mind to finish the Abbey church and to make the West Front even more imposing than Anselm's plan, in order to dwarf the Norman Tower. He wanted to rebuild the West Front to be 246 feet wide with a vast central tower, flanked by two smaller octagonal towers, crowned with spires. The result would be the greatest in England. It would take most of his 29 years as Abbot and most of the available cash.

1190 On Palm Sunday, March 18th 1190, riots broke out in St Edmunds town and 57 Jews were murdered in the frenzy. Following the national rise of anti- semitism, coupled with Samson's own feelings, it seems that a fiery anti-jewish sermon had been preached in the Abbey church to the townspeople of Bury. The sermon may have been made by Abbot Samson himself. After the service the congregation turned into a violent and murderous mob.

There is no record of any townspeople of Bury being prosecuted for these deaths, and, indeed, Abbot Samson's official response to this holocaust was to obtain the King's permission to expel the Jewish community from the town. This permission arrived on 9th October and was another bitter blow to the remnants of the Jewish Quarter in Hatter Street. The religious pretext was to keep the town of the Saint for St Edmund's men. The Jews lived mainly in Heathen Street, today known as Hatter Street, and many of their houses were stone built for safety.

Spicer Row as in 1433. From Margaret Statham's Book of Bury St Edmunds
Spicer Row (M Statham)
blank The part of Abbeygate Street between Whiting Street and Hatter Street was called Spicers Row at this time. The spice trade was one of the few occupations allowed to the Jewish community, and it is likely that these were the shops and premises of Jews involved in importing, blending and retailing spices from the east.

Moyse's Hall is outside the area known to have been the Jewish ghetto in Bury, but it was in a prime place for a bank or finance house also practicing pawnbroking, who wished to deal with the wider population coming to Bury market. It is dated to around 1180, and although there is no contemporary evidence that it was a Jewish house or business, nevertheless it has been attributed to a Jewish businessman since the 17th century. Its stone construction was ideal for the protection of the large amounts of cash held by a moneylender, and also to provide safety against the outbreaks of sporadic anti-semitic violence. However, even stone was no protection once the abbot had pronounced their expulsion.

The Rabbi in Bury at this time was Yechial Sancto, and the synagogue was probably located at numbers 25 and 26 Hatter Street. Almost certainly the Jewish Synagogue was never at Moyse's Hall.

At some point around this time we know that Abbot Samson gave some stone buildings to support the abbey school, so that the school teachers could have somewhere to live. Robert Butterworth has suggested that these buildings may have been the Jewish houses in Hatter street which were forcefully purchased from the Jews. He also suggests that the old Jewish Synagogue was turned into a Chantry for Little St Robert of Bury. The King would allow them to be evicted from Bury, but not to be completely ruined financially as he still needed the cash flow the bankers could provide. Therefore the Jews were allowed to realise the value of their houses.

1191 By this time the vast open market place at Bury St Edmunds had been considerably encroached upon by permanent buildings, shops and booths. The burgesses avoided the normal market tolls by doing this, and claimed that the town reeves had given them permission. However, the reeves should have been answerable to the convent, but seem to have just continued paying the sacrist the old rent roll of £40 a year. Samson had to agree that the burgesses had acquired legal rights to hold these properties, despite the fact that the original grants had probably being made illegally.
The earliest known illustration of an English windmill comes from a memorial brass of Adam de Walsoken from St Margarets church in Kings Lynn, dated 1349.
Windmill dated 1349
blank One consequence of the Crusades was that foreign ideas were being brought back into England. Windmills were frequent in the arabic world, and it is said that the idea of wind power for milling, instead of water power, was introduced to England in these years. There are said to be only three windmills dateable to the 1180s in England, and about 15 are known from the 1190s. English windmills were said to differ from the continental models by the use of shafts and gearing adapted from existing known watermill technology.

Around 1191 Herbert the Dean erected a windmill at the Haberden, off Southgate Street, in Bury St Edmunds. The Guinness Book of Records for 1964 claimed that this was the first recorded Post Mill in England. The post mill was built around a central column or post which allowed the mill to be turned to face into the wind whenever the wind direction changed. If this was the country's first post mill, it did not last very long. To protect his own income from the milling fees, which he charged at his own watermill, the Abbot forced him to take it down. Windmills were the latest technology at this time. Hitherto the watermill had reigned supreme, and it seems that the Abbot had a Water Mill based on the River Lark, within the Abbey precincts. Water power itself had replaced the animal power long used in earlier times to grind corn.

Abbey church in the time of Jocelin. From Jocelin of Brakelond by Norman Scarfe.
Abbey Church completed by Samson
by Norman Scarfe
1211 Abbot Samson died at Bury on the 30th December, 1211 and the local consequence of the Papal interdict was that he could not be buried in the Abbey grounds. It was to be three years before his body could be re-interred in the chapter house. It would also be a year before his successor was elected, but it would not be until 1215 that his successor was approved by the King, and subsequently anointed.

Building work on the great Abbey Church seems to have been at a standstill for about forty years after the time of Abbot Anselm. Samson was responsible for initiating the next phase of building development. As Sacrist from 1180 to 1182, Samson had built one extra storey on the major west tower. When Samson became abbot in 1182 he apparently embarked upon a plan to enlarge the whole west front of the church, adding towers and the octagonal structures at each side. One of these survives as 'Samson's Tower' today.

Modern attempt to reconstruct the West Front of Samson
West Front
(modern reconstruction)
blank When Abbot Samson died it is believed that he had finished his great project of enlarging the West front of the Abbey Church. He has been not only a great building abbot, but an able administrator of abbey and town, and managing the conflicts between their commercial interests as best he could. Sometimes he had upset the monks in his judgements in favour of the town burgesses, and it was possibly this which initially caused Jocelin to embark on his chronicle.
Memorial at Runnymede erected by the American Bar Association
Modern Runnymede Memorial
1215 In January, the Barons met the king with their draft charter at the Temple, but negotiations failed.

This copy of the Great Charter dates to 1225
Copy of Magna Carta
blank Archbishop Langton worked hard to make the 63 clauses acceptable to both sides while ensuring that the Church's interests were fully safeguarded. It was a last minute amendment that made it applicable not to 'any baron' but 'any freeman'.

You can read the provisions of the Magna Carta in a short form in modern English, by clicking here:
Translation of Magna Carta.

A serious fire broke out in St Edmund's Bury in the summer of 1215 which was said to have destroyed a third of the town and no doubt led to much redevelopment. It is unclear where this fire was located. The Bury Chronicle only records that on 3rd June a fire broke out and burnt a great part of St Edmund's. The Chronicle "Electio Hugonis" does not mention it at all.

In August 1215, John appealed to the Pope who denounced the Great Charter, annulling it by a papal bull and excommunicating the Barons who tried to press for its clauses to be carried out. The original Magna Carta was thus in force for only two months.

By September, civil war had broken out again because of this. The civil strife encouraged the French to take advantage of the country's disunity.

In the winter, Bury lay in the path of the raid by the Frenchman, Savoric de Mauleon, but like the raid by the Dauphin in the following Spring, we do not know exactly what consequences this had for the town, if any.

1216 John marched through the eastern rebel territories. The Bigod's great modern castle, built in the latest style with its curtain walls, fell to King John after only two day's siege.
The barons even asked France for help and Prince Louis landed in England and had himself proclaimed King. According to Matthew Paris, writing much later, Louis, the son of the French King Philip, miserably despoiled the towns and villages of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk in 1216. There has grown up a suggestion that in these attacks, he came to Bury in the Spring, and stole the relics of St Edmund and carried the bones off to France.
1217 Orford Castle was surrendered to Prince Louis of France, who had launched an expedition into England, and attacked several towns around the south east. There is no record of him attacking Bury St Edmunds, but it has been suggested that he did come to Bury, and made off with the relics of St Edmund, returning to France with his remains. This is the thesis of Father Houghton's book on St Edmund, but this event has no evidence to support it in records of the abbey.

The Bury Chronicle recorded that many Frenchmen were killed in the battle at Lincoln on 19th June. Also that on 24th August the French fleet arriving in the Thames estuary to help Louis were sunk. Louis returned to France and about 8th September, "the great gift of peace was granted once more after two and a half years war".

Robert of Graveley had been the Sacrist of St Edmund's since the demise of William of Diss. Late in 1217 he was elected to the post of Abbot of Thorney. Robert was recorded in the 1270s Gesta Sacristarium as as efficient and active Sacrist. He had bought the Abbey's Vineyard and enclosed it with stone walls for the "comfort of the infirm and those who had been bled." This area is still known as the Vinefields in the present day. He also provided new rafters for the abbey roof, and placed a decorated canopy over the shrine of St Edmund. The account of the election of the Abbot Hugh called "Electio Hugonis", may well have been written a year or two after Robert left Bury, for it is heavily biassed against him. Robert had been the chief contender with Hugh for the post of Abbot during the election of 1213.

1238 The Franciscans first came to England in 1224 with their establishment at Canterbury. The Benedictines tried to resist these incursions into their territories.

In 1238, Hawisia, Countess of Oxford, granted the Franciscan Friars a site in the town of Bury St Edmunds. The Manor of Maidwater around today's Maynewater Lane area was part of the Honour of Clare and the House of Clare was a supporter of the Franciscans. Nearby is Friar's Lane and they seemed to have set up an unofficial base there. The Abbot challenged this, saying that St Edmund's had a spiritual monopoly within the banleuca.

Guildhall porch showing earlier remains.
Guildhall porch with earlier evidence
1250 The Candlemas Guild built a porch on to the Guildhall in Bury. Its remnants can still be seen within the 15th century later improvements.
1257 Abbey power was again challenged when the Franciscan Friars gained permission from Pope Alexander IV to settle within the Liberty of St Edmund. They set themselves up under the abbey's nose in a farm within Northgate. The Franciscans celebrated mass in an audible voice in the presence of all comers, but unknown to the convent. The local Franciscan Friars Minor were saying mass in the home of a local supporter, Sir Roger de Harbridge just by the east side of the Northgate. Meanwhile, when Sir Roger and the Friars sat down to dinner, the Abbey's supporters were demolishing the Friars' Oratory and buildings in an attempt to drive them out.
1262 Pope Alexander died in 1261, and his successor Urban, was apparently less sympathetic to the Franciscans. After he received a delegation from the Bury Benedictines, the Franciscan Friars were ordered to pull down their buildings in Bury and leave town. They did this in November 1262.
1263 The King obtained the Pope's permission to renege on the Provisions of Oxford. The Chronicle records that the barons now sent out men to plunder England. The Bishop of Hereford was locked up and to avoid a similar fate, the Bishop of Norwich fled to the security of St Edmund's Liberty. "For at this time the Liberty of St Edmund was exceedingly precious in the eyes of the barons". The king of France was asked to arbitrate between the parties.

According to the Bury Chronicle, the Friars Minor voluntarily gave up their place in the town, despite the king's order. They had lived there for 5 years, 6 months and 24 days. A papal letter had been received ordering them to leave the said place.
King Henry III was on the side of the Franciscan Friars, particularly because his wife, Eleanor, was a supporter of the whole mendicant movement. The friars wanted to stay in West Suffolk, and with the King's support they were able to do this.

By 1265 the Abbey finally gave the Franciscans land for a permanent home at Babwell just outside the Banleuca where today's Priory Hotel stands.

1275 In the late 13th century the Maison Dieu or God's House was founded, a substantial almshouse near St Petronilla's hospital in Southgate Street in Bury.

The last major addition to the fabric of the abbey was perhaps the new Lady Chapel built by Abbot Simon of Luton in 1275. The Chronicle recorded that the old chapel of St Edmund was pulled down and the Lady Chapel built on its site. Under the earth were found the walls of an ancient round church, which was much wider than the chapel of St Edmund and so built that the alter of the chapel was, as it were, in the centre. "We believe that this was the chapel first built for the service of St Edmund." It could have been the foundations of Ailwin's stone chapel of 1032, or maybe even stone foundations to the wooden church first built in 903.

1290 The cellarer had dammed up the Tayfen brook, and flooded some lands used by towns people. The leading townsmen were united against this act, and called a meeting in the Guild Hall. They then set out to destroy the dam. In October, a commission was set up to enquire into their actions, but this only made matters worse. This rumbled on into more violence in 1292.
College Street corner on Churchgate Street.
Churchgate and College Streets
1295 In 1992 a survey of 48 and 49 Churchgate Street and 1 College Street in Bury revealed that the whole property was originally an aisled hall dated to the second half of the 13th century. It has two jetties and is likely to be amongst the earliest known examples of this feature.

In 1295 the Royal tax assessment of Bury St Edmunds was drawn up and still survives today. It is called the 1295 Rental and gives a lot of information about property use in the town at this time by tenants of the Abbey.

There were two suburbs, or areas outside the town walls, and these were called Eastgate and Risbygate. No Mans Meadows were recorded as 31 acres in the South Field, with the income going to the Cellarer. The Cellarer also held Hardwick heath. Nowton Road had two woods, Eastlee and Southlee which belonged to the Sacrist. The Sacrist also had the manor of the Haberden which now had 51½ acres and a mill.

This assessment clearly shows that the Great Market was in the Cornhill and Buttermarket areas. It is still there today, but in 1327 the townspeople asked for it to be moved back to its original location, so it is unclear exactly when it moved there. It is possible that it had been held for many years on the Angel Hill, maybe ever since Anselm's town improvements in the 1130's.

1299 Between 1297 and 1300, William de Westley was granted land "on the Way leading to Chevington". This is the earliest known reference to Chevington Way, a route from Bury and its Abbey to Chevington and thence on to the south west to Haverhill. This route no longer exists as it has been obliterated by the formation of Ickworth Park, and its closure to traffic. It is an interesting example of how the ancient routes have disappeared over the years.

Chevington Way has also been known as the Abbot's Way in its time. The Way leaves today's A143 at Chedburgh, going straight on to Chevington where today's road turns sharply right to the east at the pub. Leaving Chevington at the Church it entered what is now Ickworth Park at the Iron Gates, in the south west of the park. The Way is now represented by a modern roadway in the Park, and follows the River Linnet along its west side. Here it passed through the village of Ickworth, which was also removed in the formation of the Park. It followed the course of the River Linnet through Westley Bottom to Perry's Barn. Here it picked up what is now Abbot Road, on into Hospital Road, and thence to the West Gate on Westgate Street.

The extinction of Chevington Way, and its replacement by the route of the A143 around the east side of Ickworth Park through Horringer caused Chevington to become a village "off the beaten track" after 1814.

1300 During the 14th Century, from 1300 to 1400 Bury St Edmunds had a flourishing fishing industry. Amazingly to us today, the Rivers Linnet and Lark, with the waters at Tay Fen and Babwell Fen, supported large fish populations. These provided employment for fishermen and food for the town and abbey, as well as a means of transport, source of drinking water and a means of waste disposal. Gradually the pressure of the fulling mills and their waste products, and a rise in population pressure would cause a decline in fish production.

At a time when London held perhaps 70 to 100,000 people, Norwich was home to 25,000. Ipswich had a population of 7,000 and Bury St Edmunds had about 6,000 people. Towns like Beccles, Dunwich and Sudbury were smaller, with perhaps 2-3,000 people.

In the century 1300 to 1400 it seems that the climate was much warmer than today. On a global scale the glaciers were melting, resulting in a rise of sea level, to about half a metre higher than it was by about 1987.

1301 The Chapel of the Charnel was founded in today's Great Churchyard in Bury by the abbot, John de Northwold. There had been so many burials over the years that the cemetery was effectively full up. Abbot John was disturbed by the old bones being "indecently cast forth and left", and so the Charnel House was built to hold the disturbed bones.

Later in 1301 Thomas de Tottington was installed as abbot.

Location of Shirehouse Heath, Northgate Avenue, Bury
Shirehouse Heath
blank Until 1301, the Royal Assizes were held at Catteshall, a location in the Great Barton area. The Abbot, with his overriding authority within the town, had always ensured that the King's Courts for the Shire, the Assizes and Quarter Sessions were held outside the banleuca. By 1301 these courts were being held at Thingoe Hill, or Henhowe Heath, as it was called then. This was not far from the church of the Friars at Babwell, and when the weather was bad at the new courts, large crowds had sought refuge in the church. The Friars petitioned the king not to let the Hall of Pleas become a permanent fixture at Henhowe Heath. This does not seem to have worked, as the area became called Shirehouse Heath, indicating that it did, indeed, become the home of the Shire House or Hall of Pleas, for the duration of the monastic period. The name survived on Ordnance Survey maps up to the 1886 edition. After the Dissolution the Shire House moved into town.
1303 From this date, it is said, the Abbey began sheep farming on a large scale. Presumably some of the arable land was replaced by sheep walks.
1306 The Abbot had his own gallows at Westley, which for a time served the whole hundred. In 1306 William de Beresford and William Howard burned it down.
The gaol in Bury at this time was fairly dilapidated and in this year William Pugg, imprisoned on a charge of trespass on the abbey's fishponds, broke out. Prisoners were not generally held as a punishment, but as an incentive to make recompense for their crimes by paying compensation or fines.
1327 In January the country was in turmoil, with chaos and disorder over the possible deposition or abdication of Edward II. One particular uprising took place in Abingdon, another monastic town, and news of this soon reached Bury. A large crowd gathered at the Guildhall and swore on oath to ruin St Edmund's Abbey. There were many complaints to answer. By this time almost all towns had won a measure of self government except at places like St Edmunds, St Albans and Reading where the great local abbeys retained a control of life far greater than any baron or even the King.

One demand was a return of the market place to its former position. The demand that the market should be returned to its old location is curious as it seems to have been on its present site in the Cornhill and Buttermarket areas since at least 1295. It seems even more curious if it really had been here since Abbot Anselm's day in the 1130's as is the traditional view. It may be that this was just a long-held grievance because change was imposed by the abbey, not because of any real desire to revert to an old site.

Next day, the 15th January, about 3,000 people stormed the Abbey gates, attacked the inhabitants and ransacked the legal archives. The Vestry and Treasury were raided and robbed. They blocked all roads to London and threw about 21 monks into jail. Amazingly it is reported that 32 out of the establishment of 80 monks were in the country at the time, on holiday.

On May 19th, a new force entered the arena in Bury. The Franciscan Friars from Babwell and the secular priests turned on the abbey. The front doors of the parish churches of St James and St Mary, inlaid and jewelled, were ripped off and carried away.

The burgesses fortified the town walls. In the country, the Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, Sir Robert Morley, was weakened by the new King's minority.

In the Autumn, de Berton again encouraged the mob to attack the abbey. More buildings were burnt including Bradfield Hall, the King's own residence inside the Abbey. The monks planned to retaliate.

On 18th October the townspeople were at prayer when the monks attempted a counter-coup. They attacked the congregation, resulting in retaliation which nearly destroyed the monastery. During this time the old Gate to the Great Court was destroyed in the rioting. The violence moved into the rest of the Banleuca and beyond. The abbey's barns were raided and the grain stolen. Cattle were rustled and most of the abbot's country estates invaded. Even St Saviour's Hospital suffered £800 in damages.

When armed soldiers arrived at Bury the town surrendered without a fight. Sheriff Robert Morley took 30 cartloads of prisoners to trial in Norwich.

1328 John de Berton and Gilbert Barbour, the ringleaders of the 1327 revolt in Bury, escaped from gaol, and took refuge in a house of the Babwell Franciscan Friars. They stayed there from Winter to Summer. Following their enormous fine of £14,000 in 1327 some of the burgesses still refused to knuckle under.

In August the notorious outlaw gang of Thomas Thornham came to Bury to a hero's welcome by townsfolk against the protests of the Abbot, who, naturally, feared the worst. Thornham took over Moyse's Hall, and fought off the abbot's attempts to arrest him. The Abbot retreated to his Manor at Chevington Hall, a moated favourite place of Abbots from Bury. De Berton and Barbour came out of hiding and joined Thornham's band along with another burgess, one Richard Friosel. A group of them marched on Chevington where they managed to kidnap Abbot Richard de Draughton from his moated country retreat. Today's Chevington Hall Farm is the site of this outrage. It is likely that the Hall was damaged in this assault. Great Horringer Hall was destroyed during the march, as were other local manor houses. After the Abbot was taken, some of the mob returned to Bury up Chevington Way and ransacked the Abbot's palace.

The Abbey Gate as seen in the early 18th century. From Antiquitates S Edmundi Burgi by Dr Batteley
Abbey Gate early 18th century
1330 From 1330 to 1350 the new Abbey Gateway was built, some 50 feet out of alignment with Abbeygate Street to replace the gate destroyed in the Great Riot of 1327. That this took twenty years to achieve shows the extent of the damage done to the fabric, power and confidence of the Abbey.

We must imagine that the niches on the Abbey Gate were occupied by statues of holy figures and saints. Although the Gatehouse survives today, the statues would have disappeared during the Reformation.

1334 The Lay Subsidy rolls of 1334 throws further light on the non-church wealth of Bury. It was ranked 28th in the Kingdom at an assessment of £360. Great Yarmouth was 6th at £1,000, Norwich was eighth at £946, Lynn was 11th at £770 and Ipswich 14th at £645. Sudbury was assessed at £281. Bury's townspeople seem to have been in a relative decline in the first half of the 14th century. Strong recovery seems to come from about 1360, despite the impact of disease.
1349 The years 1348 and 1349 would fundamentally re-align the development of people's lives in Medieval Suffolk, in a way that the First world War would do so centuries later. The structure of society, the relationships between the classes, and the country's economy, were all turned upside down. and It is believed that between one-third and one half of the country's population were killed by the Black Death. Many monastic houses were virtually wiped out. It was exceptionally severe in St Edmundsbury.

In January 1349 the Black Death arrived in Suffolk, perhaps first appearing at the inland port of Lakenheath, which suffered 20 deaths by February. The disease took four weeks to incubate, and death followed rapidly. Outbreaks now occurred up the Stour valley along the routes out of London. Coastal ports also introduced it into the Waveney valley. In March the disease reached Bury St Edmunds. People started dying here in April.

By summer 1349 the Black Death was at its height in St Edmund's town. By September 1349, the Black Death had passed but the country was desolated. About 60% of all priests were dead, as were 45 to 50% of tenant farmers. Farms and stock were left to ruin as there was no skilled labour left to manage them. There was little or no normal production as employers were dead and established markets for produce were decimated. Those able to work were, for a time, able to pick and choose employers.

1361 There was a further outbreak of the Plague, referred to as the "pestis secunda" which hit Bury in the four months of summer, 1361. Probably another 5% or 10% of the population was killed. Another outbreak would arrive in 1368.

Mark Bailey's analysis of Suffolk subsidy returns gives us some idea of the population decline at this time. In the 1340s Suffolk had a population of about 225,000 people. By 1360 to 1365 this total was only 125,000. By 1520 the population would decrease further to only 100-110,000.

1374 The plague once again hit Bury with an epidemic, and the pattern would continue every five to ten years up to the 1420's.
Richard Charman, possibly the richest layman in Bury by now, took over a large mansion in Churchgate Street which reached back to Hog Lane. By now, the cash from his property business was being used to lend extensively about the town. By the 1390's money lending was the biggest part of the family business. Richard died in 1390, but the family wealth lived on.
1378 The Guildhall at this time was along the Great Market in St Edmund's town. It was owned by the abbey and the guilds paid rent for its use. For most of the last 50 years the Guild and the Abbey had argued over who should maintain it. In 1378 Richard II's advisers were forced to intervene to stop it falling down. The king ordered the Guild members to undertake the repairs needed. Only in the next century would the town guild willingly maintain its own hall.
1381 St Edmunds only had 47 monks following years of plague, compared to 80 monks and 21 chaplains in 1260. It looks as if up to half the monks had died from the disease.

All over the country there was discontent, so that the poll tax became just the last straw.
Thus did 1381 become known as the year of the Peasant's Revolt. In East Anglia the leader of the revolt was now generally accepted to be Jack Wrawe, a chaplain from All Saints Church in Sudbury in Suffolk. John, or Jack, Wrawe was the Suffolk equivalent of Jack Straw, now intent upon terrorising the Bury area, seventeen miles to the north. With the long hours of daylight at this time of year, they set off for Bury where they camped outside the town walls at the South Gate.

The Prior of the Abbey, John de Cambridge, was in charge during the long dispute over the vacancy for Abbot. His town house was the first to be attacked, broken into and ransacked. Having wrecked the prior's house, next John de Cavendish's town house was also pillaged and burnt.

On 23rd June, 1381, part of the royal army arrived at Bury from London.

1386 In Bury the Burgesses had finally paid off the last of their fine of 2,000 marks in January 1386. This may have led to the pledge of £10,000 for good behaviour also being extinguished. Apparently the financial burden had been so great that a few people had given up their tenements, alienated their goods, and moved to Norwich or Colchester to avoid payment.
1393 The Abbey Church at Bury was flooded.
St Mary's church tower today
St Mary's church tower
1400 St Mary's church at Bury St Edmunds was given a tower, probably under construction from 1395 to about 1403.
1430 Samson's central tower over the West Front of the great abbey of St Edmund collapsed in 1430. It came down over a period of days as firstly only the south side fell. Then came the east side, but great jagged parts of the north and west side would stand for the next year or so before rebuilding could begin. Abbot Curteys blamed the negligence of previous sacrists and the excessive ringing of the bells. M R James wrote in 1895 that the two collapses were a year apart, the south side falling in December 1430, and the east side falling in December 1431.

In 1430 Abbot Curteys made an agreement with John Arnold and Herman Redmond to burn bricks for him at Chevington. It is difficult to know whether brick was widely used yet in Bury, but this is an early record of its use.

Abbot Curteys also began to build a new library for the abbey's book collection, which by this time included about 2,000 volumes, one of the biggest collections in the country. Previously the abbey's books had been scattered around the church buildings, and many had been in the hands of individual monks, and even towns people. The location of the library is not definitely established. M R James concluded that it was probably over the Cloisters.

1432 The remains of the collapsed Tower were taken down and work began to rebuild the Abbey Church following the collapse. The library would also be rebuilt, and this work may have dragged on for the next 50 years, particularly as a great fire would be caused by a workman's brazier in 1465.
Bury St Edmunds in the 15th Century
Lobel's map of Bury
1433 It is not known where or when Jankyn Smyth, a wealthy merchant of Bury, was born. However, a rental of 1433 shows him occupying property on the north side of Churchgate Street, between Hatter Street and Angel Lane.
Bury in 1433. From Margaret Statham's Book of Bury St Edmunds
Bury in 1433 by M Statham
blank At the same time we see that today's Abbeygate Street was divided into areas called Cook Row, Barber Row, Spicer Row and Fish Market. Later the whole street was called Cook Row.

In 1433 King Henry VI toured Eastern England. At this time, no king had visited Bury St Edmunds for 100 years. He arrived on Christmas eve with a vast retinue along the Holeway from Cambridge, and was met at Newmarket Heath by the major figures of the abbey and town, all dressed in scarlet or red in honour of the king. The entry to the town was made through the South Gate and up Southgate Street, the main processional way at the time. They went straight into the Abbey Church for a service of thanksgiving.

The Nottingham Porch on the north side of St Mary's church.
Nottingham Porch
1437 John Nottingham left money in his will to build porches on St Mary's West and South doors. In the event the money was used to provide a grand porch on the North door.

By this time he owned more tenements and messuages in Bury than any other individual. He also owned property throughout West Suffolk and in London. He had been Alderman at least five times.

1440 From about 1440, the rearing of sheep became more profitable around Bury than the rearing of cattle. Cattle had been kept for years in and around the town, supporting the leather industry as well as for food. The wool from sheep was now becoming much more valuable for weaving into cloth. This led to an extension to the number of sheep folds around the area.

With the increased cloth production around Bury, it would appear that the fulling and dying of cloth were polluting the waterways of the town. At any rate the number of people in the town calling themselves fishers seems to have fallen dramatically at this time. The river and fen fishing industry became moribund.

1445 Between 1425 and about 1445, most of St Mary's was rebuilt except for the tower and chancel.
The boundary of King Edmund's grant, later called the banleuca. Map by M Lobel
The Banleuca by 1450
1450 By 1450 only about 30% of Suffolk was under the plough compared to 50% in 1300. Many farmers had shifted from growing grains to rearing animals. From 1450 to 1530 the cloth industry would reach a peak of prosperity.

This was particularly marked in the broad cloth area of Suffolk, between Clare, Bury St Edmunds and East Bergholt. Bury St Edmunds was the principal market outlet for the woollen cloth of the Stour Valley, as well as being a major producer in its own right. Merchants came to Bury's wool markets from London, Norwich, Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth, the Low Countries, Germany and Italy. They were seeking the cloth from the finest fleeces in Western Europe.

By 1450 it is reckoned that about half of Bury's export trade was through Kings Lynn, by way of the Rivers Lark and Ouse.

Foundry marks used on bells made in Bury St Edmunds. From 'Bells and Bellringing in Suffolk', by Clouston and Pipe.
Bury bell foundry marks
blank A bell foundry seems to have started in Bury in 1450, by a founder with the initials HS. His foundry mark included a cannon and cannon ball, so he probably cast more than just bells. The crossed arrows indicate Bury as his foundry.
1463 John Baret was a wealthy cloth merchant, who lived in his house on Chequer Square in Bury. During 1463 he wrote his will, copies of which survive in records today. He recorded that he had a spinning house at his home, which was unusual for the time, as most spinning and weaving took place in the cottages of the workers themselves. Fabrics known as dornix or darnick were produced by many weavers, while Bury coverletts were well known as well. John Baret would die in 1467.
1465 On 20th January 1465, during restoration of the lead roof of the great St Edmunds abbey church, the plumbers left a brazier burning at their 10 o'clock break. It was blown over and the roof caught fire. By noon the whole chancel was a furnace and the main central spire collapsed into the choir beneath. The canopy over the saints relics crashed onto the shrine and the church was completely gutted.

There is no subsequent reference to any inspection of the saint's body, and in 1931 Goodwin wrote that "it seems probable that the saint's body was more or less cremated on that occasion".

St James church was also severely damaged by fire. The abbey had to raise funds as best it could for the repairs. We can see from wills made after this time by the wealthy townspeople, that the abbey was not mentione as an important beneficiary as much as it might have been two centuries earlier.

The tomb of John Baret in St Mary's Church
Tomb of John Baret
1467 John Baret died and in his will left money to repair the Risbygate, which he called "the most ruinous of the town". It seems that much of the town's old infrastructure was in a state of decay at this time. For the next 50 years many rich citizens left money to repair the other gates as well. All the roads also benefitted from bequests. Abbey property seems to have decayed considerably over this period.

Baret also left the Feoffees 250 acres, the income of which was to go to the Poor of Bury. He also left Baret House in Chequer Square to the town.

Jankyn Smith - portrait by Fenn c 1616
Jankyn Smith
1473 Jankyn Smyth made his will in August, leaving his house and more land in Bury to the alderman and 21 others. This property, and his 1470 conveyance, was for "relief and aid of the alderman, co-burgesses and the whole community and poor inhabitants of the said town of Bury Saint Edmunds in support of the burthens daily falling upon them." He was not to die until 1481, but this gesture would undoubtedly have been known to the Guild members. The people to whom the administration of the will would fall were known as Feoffees.
1479 In 1479-80 there was the worst outbreak of plague in Bury since 1361-62. Perhaps 15% of the population was killed.
Location of the College of Jesus, from Warren's map of 1776
G=College of Jesus
1481 Jankyn Smyth died and he left several important bequests. One was to the College of Sweet Man Jesus, his chantry in College Street.
The fortified porch at the Guildhall, modified to include a strongroom after 1481.
The new Porch at the Guldhall
blank Jankyn Smith's executors were charged with the duty of providing a safe place to store the money arising from his bequest to the town. This would result in a rebuilding of the porch on the Guildhall, to contain a strongroom above the entrance. An older porch, possibly dating back to the original building in the mid 13th century, can still be traced in the outside wall.
1495 The lands of the Honour of Clare had included a small part of Bury, around the Manor of Maidwater since the time of William the Conqueror. In 1495, they were granted in jointure to Queen Elizabeth, the wife of Henry VII. In 1509, they would pass to Katherine of Aragon.
1503 Work begun on extending St James' Church westwards to give it a street access. Three shops were demolished to provide the space needed. The resulting nave survives today, and was probably the work of John Wastell, the Master Mason of the abbey, who lived in Bury. The work would take many years, probably not being completed until 1551.
1511 John Parfay, a prominent draper of Bury, left enough money in his will to pave the entire road from South Gate to Ipswich. In the same year there were other road improvements. All the bridges over the Linnet were fixed and a Civic Road Repair Fund was set up. Since 1450 the wealthier townspeople gave up leaving money to the abbey, and instead left it to repair and improve the public buildings, roads, bridges and gates of the town, or to improve the parish churches of St James and St Mary.
The Abbey before the Reformation by W K Hardy, 1883.
St Edmunds Abbey by W K Hardy 1883
1514 A new abbot was appointed, Abbot John Reeve, a man from Melford in Suffolk. Like all monks he changed his last name to his place of origin when he entered the priesthood, and so became John de Melford. He would rule until the Dissolution in 1539, and thus would be the last Abbot of the great abbey of St Edmund.

The abbey of St Edmund, which he now ruled, was one of the grandest in Europe. W K Hardy attempted to reproduce how it may have looked in this painting from 1883. However, it would be unwise to rely too much upon the details shown, as we just do not know its full appearance.

1522 Henry VIII tried to draw up his own version of the Domesday Book called the Military Survey. Lord Walsingham wanted to establish the Country's fiscal base in order to levy a fair rate of taxes. Its official purpose was "for mustering the King's subjects" and establishing "the true extent of rents and revenues". This 1522 Muster Roll is important evidence of the population at the time.

In Bury and surrounds the Muster Roll found 6,476 men of which 2,900 were able bodied for service in the military. Robert Gottfried has assumed that the Borough's population might have been 5,438 based on an analysis of the evidence, and applying certain formulae.

Work by John Patten in 1979, would suggest that this figure was far too high. His estimate for 1525 was 3,550. In any event this made Bury the largest town in Suffolk at this time.

A new disease called Typhus first struck Bury this year. This year the outbreak was not too bad, but it would recur worse in the future.

1524 The Lay Subsidy of 1523 and 1524 was a record of taxes which allows us to see that Lavenham was ranked fourteenth in wealth of English towns at this time with an assessment of £402.

Three generations of Thomas Springs were the main Lavenham Wool producers. Much of this cloth was sold through the market at Bury in competition with the ports of Colchester and Ipswich. The road from Lavenham to Bury, called Buryweye, was the most heavily travelled route in West Suffolk.

Bury was ranked just above Lavenham at 13th with a subsidy assessed at £405, barely any different. If Bury and Lavenham are considered together as an economic unit, they would together rank 7th in the land for combined wealth.

At this time London was first at £16,675, but Norwich was 2nd in the land at £1,704. Ipswich was 8th at £657, Kings Lynn 9th at £576, and Colchester was 12th at £426.

By now the burgesses of Bury and its surrounds were wealthy independently of the Abbey of St Edmund.

As for population, this is very hard to estimate. Work by Dr John Patten in 1979, would suggest that Gottfried's figure of 5,438 for Bury was far too high. Patten's estimate for 1524/25 is 3,550 for Bury and 3,100 for Ipswich. In any event this still made Bury the largest town in Suffolk at this time. By 1603 Bury would be overtaken in size by Ipswich.

1527 We know that the Bury St Edmunds town wall was still in existence at this time, as leases were issued to landowners just inside the walls to make gates through it to the land beyond.

In 1527, Thomas Chirche the bell founder, left a will in which he left 12d to every priest who bore his body to "chirche". Thomas had run the Bury bell foundry since his father died in 1498. The bell foundry now passed into the hands of Roger Reve, who owned it until 1533.

1530 By 1530 the abbey of St Edmund was considerably weakened by years of selling, or leasing off, its lands, and borrowing money to try to meet its running expenses. The standard of living of the abbots and the main officers were those of great Lords, and little attempt was made to cut back. Bad management resulted in sales of assets to make ends meet, but this was bound to store up problems for the future. A. Goodwin believed that the abbey had sorted itself out by the Reformation, but Lobel and Gottfried agree that the opposite was the case, and the abbey was in accelerating decline by this time. By 1539 the landed estates of the abbey were less than half the size of the 1290's, but it was still the biggest landowner in West Suffolk.

Bury itself was full of abbey tenements and holdings, many of which were in decay and even ruinous, giving a tumbledown feel to streets west of the abbey. However, many of the burgesses were wealthy and had moved to better areas of the town, maintaining prosperous lives independent of the abbey's decline. Bury would not collapse just because the abbey was in trouble.

1531 Henry VIII agreed his Bill of Sewers, and appointed a Commission to maintain sewers. In those days a sewer was not meant to take solids. A sewer was understood to be a watercourse, pipe or tunnel to take rainwater from streets and house roofs to prevent flooding and undermining of property, and from fields to drain crops. Disposal of solid waste was considered a private matter, and the privy usually discharged to a midden in most towns.
1534 In about 1530 John Leland, the Keeper of the King's Libraries, toured around East Anglia. As the king's Antiquary, he was looking for ancient books and records. The dates are unclear as he made various trips round England over a ten year period. It is said that in 1534 John Leland visited Bury. Most of his comments on provincial towns were far from flattering, but in the case of Bury he wrote that:
The abbey at Bury by W K Hardy 1880
St Edmund's Abbey
blank "Why need I in this place extol Bury at greater length? This only will I add, that the sun does not shine on a town more prettily situated, so delicately does it hang on a gentle slope, with a little stream flowing on its east side, nor on an abbey more famous, whether we regard its endowments, its size, or its magnificence. You would aver that the Abbey was a town in itself; so many gates has it - and some of them are even of bronze - so many towers, and a church surpassed by none, under whose shadow, in the same churchyard, stand three more of the most excellent design. The streamlet, which I just now mentioned, flows through the midst of the abbey precinct, gaining access thereto by a double bridge vaulted over it."

The "little stream" does not seem to have been named the Lark until about the seventeenth century. In 1699 there was enacted "an Act for making the River Larke, alias Burn, Navigable". In 1534 it was small and shallow and could not take deep draught vessels, so only flat bottomed barges could reach the town, usually poled by men or pulled by oxen or mules.

1536 The Dissolution of the Monasteries really began when the Act of Suppression authorised the closure of monasteries with an annual income of less than 300 marks (about £200). This Act began to be enforced in 1536. In Bury this order did not cover the great Benedictine Abbey, but it did cause the Babwell Friary of the Franciscan Order to be shut down. To make a quick return the King authorised a few sales or "grants" to anyone able to pay the price. There were only a trickle of sales up to 1540. The property of the Babwell Friary was sold to Anthony Harveye, a gentleman.
1538 In September 1538 the Kings Commissioners arrived at Bury Abbey to confiscate its wealth.
1539 The property of the Abbey of St Edmund was surrendered to the Crown on 4th November 1539 but much of the wealth had already been confiscated in the previous year.


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